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An average audience of more than 15.6 million people watched first-round coverage simulcast across ESPN, ABC, NFL Network and other platforms, shattering the league’s previous record high of 12.4 million viewers in 2014. Viewership was up 37 percent compared to last year when an average of 11.4 million viewers watched the draft broadcast.
"The theme of hope is always prevalent in the NFL, especially with regard to the Draft," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "In 2020, that's especially true, as we help honor healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19 while giving our fans something to cheer about as we celebrate the next generation of NFL stars. We are thrilled so many people were able to join us last night and we thank them for helping support the Draft-A-Thon."
Originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, the NFL Draft went virtual after the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to cancel the in-person event. Goodell announced first-round selections from his basement, while live feeds showed coaches and executives from all 32 teams navigating the draft process.
The NFL also conducted a “Draft-A-Thon” to raise money for several charities to aid response efforts, including Feeding America and the American Red Cross. The league tallied more than $4 million in donations as of Friday afternoon.
First-round viewership peaked between 8:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET with 19.6 million viewers.
The 2020 NFL Draft was the first major live sporting event in weeks. U.S. sports leagues have suspended their seasons in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and bans on mass gatherings.
The NFL conducted several trial runs ahead of the draft and worked with tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon to ensure a smooth virtual broadcast. The first night concluded without a significant issue.
Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft will air Friday night beginning at 7 p.m. ET.